Overland travel in Antarctica isn’t simple. What happens when scientists need to go to a remote region rarely visited, or take a path unknown?

Last season, Australia’s most significant traverse in 20 years travelled from Casey research station to Little Dome C, 1,200 kilometres away on the Antarctic plateau.

The traverse created a path to the drill site for the million year ice core project.

So what is a traverse and why is it needed?

Travel in Antarctica is more complicated than getting in your car or booking a plane ticket.

Just like there are no cars, there are no highways, rest stops or petrol stations. Travelling these vast distances requires a heavy-duty convoy carrying everything you need to survive – food, equipment, fuel, power generators, sleeping and living spaces – and a team of people to keep safe, warm and fed.

Science in Antarctica is a logistically challenging business, with its long distances, freezing temperatures, shifting ice and extreme winds.

The modern tractor traverse will allow the Australian Antarctic Program to move inland in all weather conditions and reach areas deep in the Antarctic interior.

(Learn more about our traverse history and our modern traverse capability in our multimedia feature 'Ice Nomads')

Why now?

One of the scientific ‘holy grails’ in Antarctica is the search for glacial ice that formed more than a million years ago. A million year ice core will provide new information to test climate models and answer questions about a shift in the timing of ice ages. Scientists want to understand what caused this shift, to better understand present-day climate change.

Australia is taking a leading role in this international quest for the ‘oldest ice’. The traverse will set up a mobile inland station at the chosen drilling site and then spend 4–5 summers drilling.

Read more about the search for the million year ice core.

What is happening in 2023/2024?

A traverse team of nine people, five tractors and two snow groomers made the 1,200 kilometre journey to Little Dome C in December 2023, to get things ready for the resumption of the million year ice core project the following season. The project had to be delayed in 2023 due to illness and weather-related delays.

The traverse team spent about 20 days moving infrastructure and cargo – including a large drill tent, foundations and structure, and an inland station accommodation module – from Casey research station to the drill site. They spent about a week on the ground, before making the return journey.

“By delivering cargo this year we can maximise the time that the million year ice core team can use for drilling next year, “ traverse leader Dr John Cherry said.

In the video below, Dr Cherry is at Little Dome C, describing what the traverse achieved and who was involved.

A plan for the future

A modern, deep-field traverse capability will offer scientists the opportunity to access the entire Australian Antarctic Territory.

Its development and the search for the million year ice core are part of the Australian Antarctic Strategy.